Helio Gracie Dies at 95

January 29, 2009

Affectionately known to many as the Godfather of modern MMA, Helio Gracie, head of the legendary Gracie family passed away this morning in Rio de Janeiro, according to several sources.

Photo Courtesy of John Phillips/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images 

Helio, along with his brother Carlos, is credited with creating what we now know as Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Around the turn of the nineteenth century, a Japanese marital arts instructor named Esai Maeda moved to Brazil as part of a mass emigration from Japan. In his new home, Maeda crossed paths with Gastao Gracie (Helio's father), who helped Maeda adapt to the unfamiliar surroundings. To show his gratiude, Maeda agreed to train Graice's children in the Japanese art of jiu jitsu.

Most of the Gracie children picked up the new sport very quickly and soon began giving lessons of their own, but with Helio's physically weak body type and various health issues, he found it difficult to master many of the techniques passed down by Maeda. Where many would have quit, Helio's relentless spirit drove him forward.

He continued to train and adjust Maeda's moves to better suit his abilities. It was not long before he mastered the new techniques and began teaching them as his own brand of fighting. Graice Jiu Jitsu was born.

Helio grew to be a dominant and respected figure within the community and eventually began challenging comers from across the land to test their skills against this newly-formed art.

As Helio's style passed through the generations of Gracie's, they grew stronger and began gaining worldwide recognition as feared fighters. In 1993, Helio's son Rorion co-founded the Ultimate Fighting Championship and chose Cousin Royce Gracie as the family representative. Through this, the phenomenon was conceived.

Belying his demeanor in competition, Helio Gracie was a warm and affectionate individual and will be missed by the thousands who grew to love him.